The Old Water Tower  

Earls Colne  Colchester  CO6 2SZ

Lower High Street

Major John Bale painted the lower part of the High Street in 1894.

The general view is much the same today, but there have been some changes.

Looking from the corner of Shut Lane, we can see the entrance to the churchyard before the lych gate was moved there in 1943.

To the right of the churchyard gate was a newsagent’s shop. From the headlines on the placards we can date this photograph to 14th April 1915.



The proprietor, Philip Lee, standing by the doorway, won prizes for his window display.

The Hughes family took over the shop in 1925 and moved the business to the top of the High Street in the mid-1950s

In the left-hand picture, looking west from the corner of Shut Lane, the shop on the right with the sun-blind has been through more changes than most - from coal-merchant’s to a dairy, then a handicraft business and now a private residence.



By the 1930s there are a few cars in the High Street but one roundsman is still making deliveries by horse and cart.


Although ‘The Castle’ is one of the oldest buildings in the High Street, it only became a public house towards the end of the nineteenth century. The plaque over the fireplace dates from the seventeenth century when the house was owned by Robert Abbott, a leading member of the Quakers.

After ‘The Castle’ became a pub, its landlady was Miss Jane Sadd, whose father had previously used the building as a bakery for making biscuits. This portrait taken by Charles Tyler, shows that she continued to wear the Victorian style of dress well into the twentieth century.

Across the road from ‘The Castle’ were Jessie Buck’s sweet shop and Bradshaw’s gentlemen’s outfitters. Beyond Bradshaw’s was Bartholomew’s grocery shop.



As Bradshaw’s was in competition with Joseph Farrant’s drapery business further up the road, it doesn’t seem top have been in existence for very long. The building became a craft shop in the 1960s and is now the Colne Valley Tandoori Restaurant.



Bartholomew’s grocery store had its display window and front steps removed when it was converted into a dress shop.

On the north side of the High Street in 1932, we can see Miss Pendle’s haberdashery. Beyond that are Miller’s fish shop, ‘The Castle’ pub and Leeland’s greengrocery business.

Leeland’s also sold sweets and ice cream in the 1950s, and is now a private residence.

John Stedman recalls:

“You entered the shop via a narrow doorway, above which was a bell that rang quite loudly, and walked on bare floorboards. The counter was on the right as you entered. Behind were shelves with rows of sweet jars and in front, quite low, was a display of all sorts which delighted the children -liquorice boot-laces, white mice, flying saucers, love hearts, gob-stoppers, aniseed balls, sherbert dabs, jamboree bags, Trebor chews for a farthing and many more, often making it hard for a small child.”

Before it was taken over by Joe Gage and his son, as a garage and taxi-hire business, Mr Baker’s store sole a wide range of goods including furniture, drapery, groceries and wine and spirits.


As well as his taxi service, Joe Gage sold bicycles.

Evelyn Smith, at the age of 96, could remember buying her first cycle there when she was fourteen and had already started work:

“Ooh”, I said, “Mr Gage, that lovely cycle there. I wish I could have it!” He said “If you can’t afford to pay for it, you’re earning a little money now. If you bring a little money in every week, I’ll keep it for you.” Well, I was getting ever so excited . I said to my mother, “ It’s my last money I’ve got to pay out.” When I went he said, “Well, you’ve been a very good girl. I’ll let you off this week.” He said, “ You can take the bike home.”  I was too excited to ride it home, I had to push it home.




Next door to Gage’s, Archie Walford also sold bicycles, as well as motor-bikes and electrical goods. In the 1950s, when Eddie Thompson ahd become the proprietor, televisions were on sale for the first time.

James Barry’s name was still above the door of his barber’s shop when its new owner, Hector Witney, took it over in 1923. Hector later opened a ladies’ saloon next door and his son, Frank, carried on the business after his father retired.




The Post Office moved to its purpose- built premises in 1901. I this picture, the post box still displays Queen Victoria’s monogram.


A wider view shows the adjoining shops - Cuthbert’s for sweets and a drapery shop run by the Misses Dale and Whiting. Evelyn Smith assisted in the drapery shop when she first left school. One of her less pleasant duties was collecting money from customers who were slow to pay for their goods.


Evelyn Smith, at the age of 96, could remember trying to collect the money:

“I used to go round to different people’s houses, right up White Colne. They couldn’t pay their money right down so they had to pay a little every week. You know, I couldn’t bear it! I had to take my pencil and my little book and put it down. Sometimes it was a shilling, sometimes that was six pence. ‘Oh!, dear’ I said, ‘good gracious alive!  Can’t you give me a little more than that?”



By 1950, the second shop had become the Gas Showroom. Beyond it is the Mission Room owned by the parish church, later to be converted into a Fish Shop.

The Mission Room became a Post Office sorting office to cope with the extra Christmas mail. As this picture from December 1960 shows, students (including Ian Pointer and David Nokes) were employed to help Postmaster Gordon Kelly and his regular staff to cope with the rush.

Meanwhile, Barbara Stokes spent her Christmas holiday helping Mrs Kelly behind the Post Office counter.

To the west of the Mission Room was Dickie Parmenter’s shoe repair workshop and the entrance to the Earls Colne Printing Works. The shop nearest the camera belonged to Mr Slaughter who sold hardware.

Opposite the Post Office, a driveway led to the former Vicarage. The parsonage house became a private residence in 1956 and was demolished in 1980 to provide the site for the Monks Road and Josselin Close development.

The draper, whose premises are now a hotel and restaurant, was Joseph Farrants, who also acted as postmaster until 1901. Claude Snell started work for Mr and Mrs Farrants as the errand boy at the age of 12 in 1916. His wages were four shillings a week.

Claude Snell, recorded in 1974, recalls his start at Farrants:

“They were extremely kind people - very, very kind to me. I used to get all sorts of things, like cups of tea and slices of cake, and so on. Fruit from the garden. At Christmas time, the first Christmas I was there, Mr Farrants gave me a pair of boots -thick soles, hobnails - because he said I did a lot of walking about.”

After the First World War, Mr Farrants sold the business to Mr Lloyd, but the shop sign still reminded customers of its former owner



The same building went through several transformations in subsequent decades. In the 1950s, it became ‘The White House’ tea rooms and then the showrooms of Charles Morse’s antiques.

The row of small cottages leading to Queens Road have also undergone changes since this picture was taken in the early years of the twentieth century. A horse-drawn hearse is making its solemn way up the street.

early 1900s


Looking from the west in 1950, we can see the addition of Percy Bragg’s fish shop with the sun-blind and, beyond it Barclays Bank, purpose-built in 1931.

Bragg’s shop, which later became Daw and Arthy’s greengrocery, was demolished in 2002. Gerald Kelly photographed the empty site before a new house took its place



Charles Tyler’s clearest view of the lower High Street was taken in 1890 and shows his pharmacy in the right just before it was rebuilt.


As Mr Tyler’s shop was opposite the Forge on the corner of Queens Road, it is not surprising that many of his photographs feature activities there.

Mr Tyler’s best-known portrait of Bill James the blacksmith has appeared in several national publications. As the second picture shows, he tried different angles before deciding on the best composition.



Looking past the Forge, his view of Queens Road shows water pipes being laid to a communal storage tank, connected to the well at the Atlas Works.


One of Charles Tyler’s last view of the High Street was taken in 1907, showing his re-built shop, with the pair of upper bay windows, and the new houses on the corner of York Road. He retired in 1915 and leased the pharmacy to Alex Spafford.

Mr Spafford continued the photographic side of the business and applied to the Magistrates Court for a licence to sell tonic water wine, describing himself as ‘an optician and pharmacist’. The magistrate asked sarcastically why an optician needed to sell alcoholic drinks?

Mr Spafford was most indignant - “ I am also a chemist and I object to being called an optician when my principal business is that of a chemist.”

The licence application was refused on the grounds that Earls Colne already had more than its fair share of licensed premises - three fully-licensed pubs, three beer houses and one off-licence. But, even without tonic wine on offer, Mr Spafford continued in business until 1945.

Then and Now

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